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UK can not trade on WTO terms after no-deal Brexit, say EU law experts

The UK may face seven-year wait for frictionless trade under WTO rules if it leaves the EU without a deal reports the Guardian today (Monday 28 January)

Two leading European Union law experts told the paper that the UK would be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They went on to warn that food prices would double and send Britain into recession that could last for 30 years.

Brexit supporters have been insistent that if the UK leaves without a deal with the EU, it can trade immediately under WTO rules. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, told the Guardian that this isn’t true.

 “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008. It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.”

Ms Howard went on to explain that the UK would need to produce its own trading schedule for the WTO and have that agreed by all fellow WTO members – of which there are 163 – some of whom have already objected. Also, an enormous amount of domestic legislation would need to be passed before the UK could trade under WTO rules and the UK would need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators.

Rhodri Thompson QC, a specialist in competition and EU law at Matrix Chambers, agreed. He said: “The truth is that this would be extremely difficult and would not cover much of the UK economy at all.”

Vicki Hird, food and farming co-ordinator at Sustain said: "This is the latest in a series of experts telling us that a No Deal Brexit will have a dramatic impact on our food prices. Four million children in the UK already live in households that struggle to put food on the table, they can ill afford to have even a short term interruption to our food supply. Trading on WTO rules with 163 new trade partners will not be as simple as some think. We need our parliamentarians to find a way to come to agreement on a trade deal with our closest neighbours in Europe."


Sustain has compiled a Q & A on the possible impact on food and farming of a No Deal Brexit, which you can read here.

Published 28 Jan 2019

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